D-I-Why Not flora foraging homeMADE news + announcements wild inklings

Painting with Plants Workshop

Join us Saturday September 30th to Paint with Plants at the Seymour Conservation Area!

🌱🎨: Discover the world of wild inks. Learn about foraging for colour, unlocking the secret pigments of plants and, best of all, make your own “Wild Inkling” art to take home! Together we’ll explore the world of pinks, yellows, greens, browns, blacks, and purples hiding in plain sight.

🌳👍: This workshop is hosted by and in collaboration with Lower Trent Conservation, so in addition to making cool art with plants, your registration supports our local conservation areas. Double win!

(Also I saw turtles basking in the quarry right beside the workshop site, sooo…. triple win!)

🔗: Link to register through Lower Trent Conservation is here. Hope to see you there!
Covid Notes: The workshop will be held entirely outdoors, based in the picnic shelter. Registration is limited.
🌈🎥: Interested in making ink but can’t attend? The Colour of Ink featuring Jason S. Logan (Toronto Ink Company) — author of the incomparable ‘Make Ink’ — is now available to watch free online here.


flora thinking big

The Car Park

At Toyota, waiting for car service. I always wait outside if I can. Every waiting room seems to have a TV, spewing bad news on my lap. Out in the real world, the news is at least mixed.

I’ve spread my picnic blanket out on a patch of garlic mustard — or is it creeping charlie? — behind a line of supersized pickup trucks. Their hulking metal forms the back wall of my improvised porch. A short chainlink fence straight ahead warns lazily about the high speed highway beyond. I could jump the fence easily, and I am terrible at jumping fences.

But to my right is a tiny green tangle — a few yards of plant life. And the longer I look, the more threads I see. Purple loosestrife is woven with yellow salsify, stitched through with queen anne’s lace. Patches of white sweetclover, pops of sunny goldenrod. Tall swishing grasses, and the velvety stalks of sumac. Some plants I recognize, some I don’t know. I look them up, though my phone is old and battery life is precious. Knapweed, burdock, birdsfoot trefoil.

I’m alone back here, save for the guy a few dealerships to my left, who is working this fenceline with a weedwhacker. But he’s going slow, and I’ll probably be gone within the hour. I doubt he’ll get to me and this little thicket before then. If we’re lucky, he’s only working his dealership’s particular domain, and his weedwhacker will be stopped by a line in the corporate sand.

Chicory’s pinwheel flowers bloom mauve nearby. On each one is an iridescent green sweat bee, harvesting pollen. The chicory harvested, the bee moves on to the pretty pink rosettes of the field bindweed. I notice another little green bee, then another. Transport trucks storm past us. Decorated with logos of eagles and tigers, their bellies are full of fossil fuels and plastic.

I get up to investigate some burdock, and when I return, three tiny grasshoppers are sitting on my plaid blanket. Dandelion clocks that have run out of time float past and snag on the nap of the fabric. The four of us sit surrounded by wild carrots, raspberry, and grapes, with a few plastic takeout containers chucked on top.

I look up at the summer sky and spot a tiny bird chasing off a crow. The tiny bird is so very tiny, but nevertheless, it persisted. The corvid flies past another invisible line and, triumphant, the tiny bird sails back home. I can’t make out what sort of bird this is, this stalwart little spirit. It’s a David and Goliath story, with the part of the pebble played by a self-slinging bird.

The guy with the weedwhacker is inching closer, fighting against all the life that’s already made it up and over the fence. It’s whacked and whacked but the green just keeps coming. Already, the bindweed slinks undaunted over the harsh gravel meant to keep plant life at bay. As if the gravel were a river, and the bindweed were thirsty for more.

It’s all about as simple as everything is, which is to say, not simple at all. Most of these plants are invasive or introduced. I drove here today, and I will drive home. I’m woven into all sides of the story. Sometimes I cut down the green, kill the bug, and whack at “weeds” too. But, as Amy Krouse Rosenthal said: In the alley, there is a bright pink flower peeking out through the asphalt.

A. It looks like futility.

B. It looks like hope.

flora homestead


Neil took this beautiful photo the other day of an eastern tiger swallowtail on our ninebark shrub.

I hate ninebark shrubs. Also, ninebark shrubs are one of my favourite plants.

The ninebark in our yard is the legacy of a previous owner. It is a good size and prominently placed. I would never have planted ninebark here. This nursery variety one is called “summer wine”, branded to evoke warm afternoons and pleasing things. But to me, a child of the 80s, it is the colour of repressively brutalist elementary school buildings and suburbia. It belongs to a landscape of pressure treated stacked railroad ties and salmon-coloured patio stones. To me, it is “morose maroon”.

It is not… to my taste.

But when we moved in here, we left all the plants as-is for awhile. We didn’t know much, but we knew enough to know what we don’t know. So we gave ourselves a few years to learn about what was already here, and kept a light touch with our horticultural changes. We added, but we didn’t take away.

We moved in during summertime. When our first spring came the next year, we discovered the ninebark exploded with baubles of tiny pink and white blooms. Alright. That’s a solid +1. But that’s still many months of morosity.

A couple more years along, and my love of and fascination with insects was beginning to blossom. In the springs that followed, I realized that the ninebark was covered, absolutely covered, in what looked like tiny buzzy bees. Each spring and early summer the shrub literally hums, throbs and pulses with life.

Now, 7 years later, the ninebark is still here, in pride of place. And it is welcome to stay as long as it likes. Because now I know that it is a much needed source of early food and shelter for all sorts of flying things. Yesterday a hummingbird perched on the tip of its branches. The tiger swallowtails flutter through it, birds build nests under its canopy, and the tiny buzzy bees are a sure sign more blooms are on their way.

I recently learned there are two more ninebarks here, struggling to survive in poorly suited sites. I dug them up out of the ground — and moved them to better locations. You can’t have enough ninebark.

Have a great week folks! 🌿🐝


D-I-Why Not flora gardening homestead

TPS Report: True Potato Seed

🥔Tuber-u-lar experiment! My favourite flower might be the potato. Before we grew some of our own potatoes here, I’d never seen a potato flower. And maybe it’s because I find them so enchanting that I leave them be, and enjoy them as long as I can. And maybe it’s because I leave them as long as I can, that last year, one potato plant formed an extra surprise: a potato berry!!

The little green “berry” is the fruit of the potato plant. And since it’s not really how we grow potatoes anymore (by planting the tubers, we grow clones of plants instead), and is at least a little toxic to eat, it doesn’t get much fanfare or cultivation.

🐝: But if the weather is just right, and the variety isn’t sterile, and if you have some bumblerbees around, your pretty pretty potato blossoms might get pollinated, and you might end up with a potato fruit!

And if you’re the curious type (🙋), you might just wait patiently until that little green fruit is ripe, and lurk around your potato plant checking until the day it drops to the soil. And then maybe you lovingly scoop it up, and pop it in a little container to dry out and you put a wee “potato!” label on it. And all winter you walk past it on a shelf. And then when you start your seeds in early spring, maybe you crack that now dried up potato berry open. And though you don’t know what you’re doing, and you can’t really tell, maybe, maybe, you see seeds in there?? And you pop the potato berry pieces into soil and cross your fingers and then on THE BEST EARLY SPRING DAY EVER you see li’l baby potato plants!!

It is an awfully long way from sprouts to spuds. So I don’t know if these little potato bebes are going to survive all the way to the garden. But holy potato berries am I excited to try!

❄️🌱: Happy up and down and round and round start to spring folks!
For more info: Since we refer to the tubers we plant as “seed potatoes”, it’s dang hard to google this subject. (Search engines lump “potato seed” and “seed potatoes” as one). If you want to learn more, try potato apples, potato tomatoes or TPS (True Potato Seed). But not “TPS Report”, because you’ll need the right cover sheet for that.


flora gardening homestead

Ap-pear-ent progress

There is that beautiful quote that society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.

🍐👵: I don’t think there is an equivalent explanation for what happens when a middle-aged woman plants fruit trees whose pears she hopes to eat sooner rather than later. Though I’m hoping for neutral or better.

🤹⏳: We’re stretched here between the poles of permaculture and practicality. We try to pay attention, and gather good data before making changes to this scrappy scrap of land. With its spring flooding and summer droughts and rocks for soil and shade for days. But it’s always mixed with the urgency of needing to get things in the ground. So they can either start growing, or start failing so we have time to start again.

🤸🌳: Because we’re learning, so one thing we know perfectly is that we have a lot of failing ahead of us. So we try to fail on a worthwhile path, and fail forwards. That way, even when we stumble and fall, we’re still moving a little further in a good direction. 😉

Have a wonderful weekend folks! 💚

birbs flora

The red-headed white-bellied Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker feasting on sumac…or the bugs therein?

The red-bellied woodpecker. I’m not ragging on the folks who assigned woodpeckers their common names, but… okay, maybe a little. Because if I was going to describe this woodpecker to someone, “look for its red belly” would be way way way down the list.

“Neil! Come see this red-bellied woodpecker! No don’t look for a bird with a red belly. The belly looks bright white from here. I mean I can get you a close up reference photo where you can see it’s actually a bit ruddy… Ahhhh there’s no time for this, it’s that bird with the BRIGHT RED HEAD.”

It’s the same deal with the yellow-bellied sapsucker, with its brilliant red cap and (in males) equally bright red throat. And belly that if you are about five feet away from one, and happen to have a pantone deck with you, you *might* describe as the colour of watery butter.

I said I’m not actually ragging on those woodpecker namers though, and I do mean it. Because when you see the bird who scored the name “red-headed woodpecker” you can’t help but think — alright, fair enough.

Pic by The Lilac Breasted Roller (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia


flora homestead

Big Friday Night Plans

I’ve got a lot of trees to catch up with.

flora QoTD thinking big

Quote of the Day (QotD): Aldo Leopold

“Acts of creation are ordinarily reserved for gods and poets, but humbler folk may circumvent this restriction if they know how. To plant a pine, for example, one need be neither god nor poet; one need only own a shovel. By virtue of this curious loophole in the rules, any clodhopper may say: Let there be a tree – and there will be one.”

~Aldo Leopold
flora foraging

A berry on the bush and a few in the hand

The first of this year’s wild raspberries. The vines were partially defoliated by the LDD caterpillars, but the caterpillar population collapsed and died en masse just in time for the raspberry to still produce this year.

We’ve had a bumper crop of mulberries this year, possibly in part thanks to the LDD moth. Our mulberry bush is usually partially shaded by red oaks, and this year they were bare for much of June, giving the mulberry bush lots of extra sun — though the beautiful old oaks are beginning to grow their leaves back now. One tree’s struggle is another’s boom.

Like the mulberries, the raspberries here are a rolling harvest. Usually a small handful each day once it gets going. A berry perfect after dinner treat.


chickens flora homestead

A tale of two nests

Each year our yard fills with robins, and each year, so far, at least one couple has chosen to nest on or beside our home. One year there was a robin — at least we think it was one robin — who made no fewer than 6 nests in different locations around our house and yard. There is a name for this phenomenon, though it escapes me at the moment. Essentially it’s a word for when a bird is spoiled for choice — when there are so many good spots to build that their instincts kick into overdrive and they just build and build and build. “This is a good spot! Oh no wait over here! Oh I didn’t know there was an option!” We’re in a log house, with overhangs and nooks and “branching” spots galore. Nest-building paradise.

This year, happily, is no different, with spring accompanied by a flurry of nest building. Yesterday I found this spring’s active nest — tucked up under the roof in the little lean-to space behind the house. Three beautiful eggs and watchful parents. Dad around and chirping every evening, both birds beautifully dedicated to the task at hand. Birds are marvelous parents. They share the load in many ways I didn’t understand — with many dad birds in many species taking turns sitting on the nest. In robins, the mum does the incubating, but dad is responsible for much of the baby-rearing once they’ve left the nest (“fledged”). He gets to work teaching the young ones how to robin, while mum gets started on the second set.

I’m not counting them before they hatch… let’s just call it “a few”.

I’m not counting them before they hatch… let’s just call it “a few”.

There are more eggs nestled warmly under another mum here right now. We’ve been seeing how feasible it is to embrace “broodiness” as part of our chicken keeping here. To “go broody” is when a hen wants to incubate eggs — that is, sit on them until they hatch. In chicken-keeping, it’s generally seen as a nuisance. She wants to be a mum, you want her to keep laying eggs. Broody hens will stop laying for the duration of their broodiness, and most keepers prefer to buy in pre-sexed chicks (to ensure they’re all hens) or use an electric incubator to hatch eggs. There are many reasons for this way of doing things, and I see the value in some, though not all, of them. The bigger conversations around chicken breeds, what is sustainable, and what happens to the roosters, is a chat for another time.

Each year at least one of our hens has gone broody. And broodiness is notoriously “contagious”’; one year we had 3 of our hens go broody at once. Not a lot of omelettes that spring. That was before we were ready to try letting broodiness play out, so it wasn’t until last year (our 3rd spring) that we were ready to try hatching some babies.

Our beautiful mutt hen Margie, who passed away in February, was our springtime mum, hatching out 3 babies last year. Two roosters and a hen: Pip, Squeak, and Beak. Margie was a fabulous mum. She did all the right things and it was gorgeous to watch her at work. Letting your broody hen raise the babies has many benefits and one is that you don’t actually have to do much. So long as you are keeping all your chickens sheltered and fed, the mum chicken will look after the little chicks herself — keeping them warm and fed and teaching them How-to-Chicken.

It seems Margie taught them well, because this year, totally surprising both Neil and I, little Beaky is the one to go broody! We’d been keeping an eye on SooZee, our silkie, who goes broody every year, and Haggis, our red sex-link, who’s been showing signs. But by late April, there was no denying that Beak was raring to go. We had put practice eggs (plastic easter eggs) in a nest box, to see if any of the chickens would sit on them. We’re looking to “staff up” our flock, so we were happy to encourage broodiness. Beak’s been on the plastic eggs consistently for nearly a week, with all the accompanying squawking at us when we disturbed her, so it was time to swap in the real deal.

Last night we tucked four eggs under Beak that we had set aside for hatching. All were laid within the past week, and kept carefully stored, so that we could put them under Beak all at once and they’d hatch on the same day. As we waited for confirmed broodiness, we’ve been cycling out the older eggs we’d set aside — they’re only viable stored for up to a week — and much to my delight, this timing means that we were able to pop a SooZee egg under her! If it hatches, it will be a silkie-easter egger cross. Chicken eggs are 21 days to hatch, so we’ve marked our calendars. Life is full of twists, turns, cul-de-sacs, and hard realities, and who knows if these eggs will come to hatch, and if they do, whether the chicks will be healthy and/or be able to join our flock. But there is always space for joy, all swirled in with the realities of life. So in you go little beauties — hope to meet you some day!